Volunteers In Service Abroad/Free Methodist World Missions
Marchand Dessalines, Haiti—January 23-February 12, 2010
Notes on Haiti from an Intrepid Nurse Traveler
By Sally Ann Woodward-Volz, CRNA, CCRN, FCN, MS
I found hope in Haiti. Haiti is the poorest nation in our hemisphere with a population of over nine million, one-third of them living in Port-au-Prince: the commercial and political capital of the island nation with a single, unusable, major sea port, one ravaged, commercial airport and hurricane-potholed, flooded or decimated roads and bridges. Port-au-Prince and many other towns and villages were devastated by the earthquake of January 12. I left for Haiti January 23, after handing a note outlining my credentials to one of my pastors on January 17. My clinical experience includes diverse intensive care experience in university and community hospital settings; the army reserve, as well as emergency medical, and short term medical mission travel experience. Considering the enormity and diversity of the needs in Haiti and innumerable other hotbeds of human suffering - resourcefulness, willingness and humanity are the only necessary credentials. On January 19, the Free Methodist World Missions called me to be part of a Volunteer in Service Abroad team to Marchand Dessalines, a town of about 40,000 with a suburban population of 700,000 to 900,000 people. The fifty-bed hospital with one operating room is located about 75 miles inland from Port-au-Prince and appeared similar to hospitals I have visited in Jamaica, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic. But here, many of the staff and patients had lost multiple members of their immediate family in the blink of an eye.
Almost two weeks after the disaster, we were still seeing many patients that had fled the city in hope of access to medical care for the first time. Some examples of the injuries that presented to our small hospital were open and closed fractures—one elderly woman with a fractured femur and contralateral fractured tibia and fibula; a lone child with a dislocated and fractured shoulder; a mother with an avulsion from her leg accompanied by a small child with a scalp laceration involving over one-third of his scalp, with minor damage and major exposure of his skull. For the first time in recent memory, the hospital started seeing stressed and starving mothers whose infants no longer had access to breast milk, setting them up for desiccation by malaria and other infections.
Besides physical injuries and opportunistic maladies, survivors were experiencing profound and disturbing symptoms such as insomnia, confusion, irrational fear, emotional instability and detachment; recognizable and reassuringly identified as normal responses to traumatic stress. These responses were as new and unanticipated as the earthquake itself. We educated Haitian pastoral staff regarding the most common human emotional responses to traumatic experiences and offered their services to all of the patients. Not one patient declined these services.
In recent years, the people of Haiti have weathered pestilent disease and one disastrous hurricane after another. The staff of this hospital had missed several paychecks and many had expanded their single room households by taking in refugees. Food and fuel prices were skyrocketing due to anticipated shortages. The most pressing concerns for everyone, from the children running naked in the streets to the doctors and nurses religiously arriving to work in their clean pressed uniforms, were "food and continuing education for the children.” There were beautiful rice fields, livestock and gardens all around us but the needs were immediate, massive, and financially overwhelming. Into this maelstrom we brought supplies, support, and help. We were welcomed wholeheartedly.
The Haitian hospital staff was professional. Haitian support counselors and translators for Creole and cultural communication were forthcoming. Many of the hospital’s nurses slept in tents because of damage to their housing. One of these nurses went to Port-au-Prince to look for her children after the quake. Upon her arrival, she found her children had gathered four other children, doubling the size of her single parent family. I had the privilege of meeting one of the two student nurses that survived the collapse of their nursing school, where eighty-five of their classmates perished. They were in their third semester but had lost any proof of their academic achievement; they are pursuing all avenues to continue their education. The loss to the nation in human resources is profound.
Our hospital pastor and virtually every citizen I interviewed are helping refugees. One teacher I talked to has had his class size increase from 60 students to 150. The local orphanage supporting 67 infants and children, has added over 30 injured and displaced adults and children to their household. The stories of help and hope abound. During a foray to Port-au-Prince, the considerable community effort at our flattened Friends of Haiti Organization building/gravesite was inspiring. Everywhere, people with literally nothing, were helping each other and working side by side, moving cement and debris, sharing cook fires, and taking in strangers. The Haitian people that worked with us are continuing to support each other and share resources.
Still, the ongoing needs are of cavernous proportions and into that great pit of suffering we were but a thimble of sand. I spent much time organizing supplies and helping restore equipment to use. Many friends and colleagues joined our team to help us support the needs of the Dessalines Health System (a hospital and seven clinics) including: AT&T, McKenzie Memorial Hospital, New Covenant Free Methodist Church, Paragon Services, Jacobson Anesthesia, Sanilac County News, The Sandusky Tribune, Countryside Free Methodist Church, Biogel, Stephanie Labelle, Char Ryan, Michael Macmillan, and many other individuals, through prayer, publication, and donations of financial, medicinal and equipment resources.
I hope our commitment to support the people of Haiti at the hospital and healthcare system in Marchand Dessalines does not waiver. If you are inspired to assist in this endeavor, contact www.helphaitiheal.org
and direct your donation to Dessalines Hospital. Please continue to help in Haiti through the individual or agency of your choosing.